Jump to content

Optional Writing Sample


Recommended Posts

Hi all,

I'm going to get some opinions/advice on how to approach the writing sample.

I'm applying for PhD programs and the writing sample is optional, but I feel like it's a great chance to show my technical writing skills. They'll get a sense of my writing in general from personal history statements and statements of purpose, but I want to demonstrate my research writing abilities as they stand.

The problem is that I have few examples ready to go. I did an independent research project, but it wasn't released as a paper - only a presentation. I did a fair amount of writing for it (IRB application, etc.) but nothing that makes for an easy to submit paper.

There's also no length requirement (minimum or maximum). Should I pull together the pieces I have and turn it into some sort of research summary? What are other people submitting? How long should it be? Googling at this problem has given me answers that range from "800-1000 words" to "no more than 15-20 pages." I'm starting to get frustrated. When I reach out to the schools, the most I've gotten back is "something you feel represents your writing abilities" which is, again, incredibly vague.


Edit: Apologies if this is the wrong forum. I thought I put this in the writing sample forum rather than the psychology one, and now I don't believe I can delete it. I'd still value any insight folks may have, but otherwise please disregard! Thank you!

Edited by poeticbrawler
additional info
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the sample I sent over was a short paper from my undergrad thesis, less than 25 pages including references and appendices. If you're GRE writing score is very strong, the optional writing sample is less important - however, if you did not take the GRE, or scored middle to poorly on it, you for sure want to send over something that reflects your ability to write concisely while still getting your message across.  Technical is great - too technical can reflect poorly on you, though.  Too much jargon and not enough depth will kill you every time. If the program doesn't give you exact guidelines, generally sending over a either a sample of a thesis or a well-prepared research paper is more than sufficient. Quite honestly, many of the PIs won't give your writing sample more than a cursory glance, unless it stands out immediately (in either a good or bad way). I would spend more time and energy on writing a killer personal statement, a diversity statement if the program requires one, and making sure your LORs are going to be stellar. 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a PI, a writing sample might push an applicant over the top. I would especially want to see something like a GRFP application (two pages) or a conference submission or proceeding (5-10) pages. I would be looking for how the applicant writes (sentence construction, overall paper structure), how familiar are they with research writing conventions, how they situate their work in the literature (what do they cite, how do they weave citations in their writing), and whether they can write about their topic in a way that gets me excited (I agree with SocDevMum that you want to avoid jargon).

Also agree w/SocDevMum that most won't spend too much time on your writing sample. Ideally, your personal statement would demonstrate a lot of the things I mentioned above as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use